Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Perfect Ride

Dave and I took advantage of decent weather Friday to spin pedals in the White Mountains. After a sustained hot, dry spell, we hoped for superb riding conditions even though it rain the day before. We headed up early and parked at Joe Jones sport shop in North Conway.

My favorite trail in New England is the Red Tail Trail up Black Cap Mountain. The designers of this trail are geniuses. The trail works equally well in both directions, equally engaging as a climb or descent. I hoped we had it in us to climb Red Tail starting out, then finish the ride by climbing up Black Cap Mtn another way to descend Red Tail.

The climb was a bit more challenging than usual. The roots and rocks were still wet. With grades at 20% in many places, this meant dabbing every so often. Red Tail intersects with Cranmore Ridge Trail, which picks up Black Cap Connector further up. From town, the nearly 2000ft climb took us an hour to reach the summit. I still managed to clean the uber steep section on Connector, despite some newly installed erosion control measures.

Dave cresting Black Cap Mtn

The high peaks in the area were socked with the low cloud deck. The mosquitoes and black flies were pretty insane up top. I grew up adjacent to a blueberry farm. The bee hive to pollinate the berry bushes was also quite close to my house. I had no idea what it was when I was around 6-7 years old, until I got attacked with multiple stings. A bee hive has a very distinctive buzz.  The summit of Black Cap mountain had a similar omnipresent buzz from so many bugs in the air.

Looking north from Black Cap. Not shown: 10,000,000 bugs.

The descent down Connector is quite technical. Big travel bikes certainly make easier work of it. I was on my 4" travel dualie with 1.95" balding tires. Less than ideal equipment. I still managed to carefully pick my way through the sketchy parts. I'm heading to Italy in days now, so my mantra was Italy... Italy... Italy. I couldn't afford to wreck and do something stupid like last year.

Black Cap Connector.

Once down Connector, we picked up Side Hill Trail.  This contours along the base of Rattlesnake Mtn and is quite captivating. Dave hit the giant rock again before I could get me camera out. The risk didn't warrant a repeat for the camera.

Side Hill runs into the Redstone Quarry Trail. This trail meanders through an old quarry.  The biggest lathe I've ever seen sits rotting in the forest there. I bet it can turn 20 ton columns of granite. Instead of bailing out to the power lines, we hunted for more trail and found some. A lot, actually. There appears to be a whole network of singletrack on the other side of Rattlesnake Mtn that climbs quite high. There were many steep, punchy climbs that were quickly taking a toll on our legs. But the riding was sweet. At times we were riding barely-there singletrack with ferns up the handlebars. Eventually we ran out of singletrack that went up and took a mix of singletrack and ATV trails back down.

Having ridden over three hours, we needed a refill on fluids and fuel. We looped around on Rt 302 to stop at a small store. Then it was back into the woods for Sticks and Stones, a mountain biker's playground. This trail's surface is almost entirely decomposed granite and can be ridden at crazy speed. There are many entertaining rock stunts to test yourself on too.  I stuck to my mantra, Italy... Italy... Italy. Dave played a little though.

Play things on Sticks and Stones.

After finishing Sticks and Stones, we encountered our first trail user at over 3.5hrs into the ride. Really cool to have such a vast riding area to ourselves. We headed on over to our finishing climb of the ride via the powerlines. This took us to the Cranmore Ski area access road, an uber steep, loose gravel 1200ft grind. Strange creatures were encountered at the base of the climb.  At the top of the ski area, the Cranmore Ridge Trail is climbed hundreds of additional vertical feet to the Red Tail Trail.

Father of Sock Monkey. Have to follow Dave on FB to understand.
What this was doing out here is beyond me.

I imploded spectacularly on the climb. Dave, being one of those slow twitch freaks, just lit it up and was gone in a minute. One time I looked at my Garmin, it said 26% grade and I was doing 2.9mph. The walk of shame was looking pretty attractive at that point. Cramping barely stayed at bay as I approached the top of Red Tail Trail.

The Red Tail descent puts a smile on your face no matter how trashed you are. Virtually no pedaling is required the whole way down. It just flows. It can beat your wrists and arms up. I had blisters on my hands upon reaching the bottom.

We got back to the car with 35.3mi, 4:45hrs riding time and 5000ft of climbing on the Garmin. That was one of my most statisfying local rides in a long time. As Dave said, everybody should do this ride as least once per year. It's that good.


Anonymous said...

Any chance you could post a GPX file of that ride on Garmin Connect? I am headed up that way on vacation in few weeks and have been looking for some good MTB rides. Thanks for sharing.


Anonymous said...

Appreciate the genius comment about Red Tail. I often refer to it as my favorite mistake, but we've corrected most of the gaffes. Impressive ride, especially pedalling up Cranmore at the end!

Hill Junkie said...

Bob - here's link to our ride It was the first time linking these trails together for us. There are no doubt better ways that could avoid the Rt 302 section.

Rob - We appreciate all you guys do in the Whites. People rave about Northeast Kingdom trails, but I suspect not many of them have ridden the trails in N. Conway. There's easily a 3-day weekend's worth of riding in greater Conway area. I'd love to hook up and ride with you guys sometime.

Anonymous said...

love this loop! Thanks for the gps info!